When we decided to do the Camino Frances, our knowledge of the various regions we would be passing through was limited. We knew we would be passing by vineyards, visiting small towns, and every 4 to 5 days visiting big cities. However, what we did not know far outweighed the small knowledge we had of this journey. The differences between the regions we’ve covered to this point are visually vast and each has it’s own beauty and attraction.
We began our journey in the region of Aragón. Our starting point was the charming town of St. Jean Pied de Port, France. It includes cobblestone streets, fortified stone walls, as well as modern roadways and homes. The town is also at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. Therefore, the greenery surrounding this town is stunning. This region covers from St. Jean Pied de Port to Puente de La Reina. However, we were mostly on the Navarra region in our walk after crossing the Pyrenees.
Navarra begins in Roncesvalles and covers towns and cities through Estella. This part of the Camino is known for picturesque towns and includes two main cities with medieval structures – Pamplona and Estella. There is Romanesque art throughout these two cities and the villages in this region.
La Rioja is wine country and walking the Camino through this region is wondrous. Rows upon rows of vineyards with plump, juicy grapes hanging from the vine welcomes you for miles and miles. There are many bodegas off the Camino that you can visit on either a rest day or in the afternoon when you arrive in town. This region covers from Torres del Rio, a very small village, to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Najera is also in this region and has some beautiful tall, red rock cliffs that add color to the landscape. Logroño is the largest city on this stretch and it is worth spending a rest day here.
By far the largest region in the Camino is Castilla y León. It is practically the size of all the other regions put together. This region includes lots of agriculture (wheat, sunflowers, and corn) as well as two large cities – Burgos and Leon. There are some other important sites in this region such as Atapuerca (the most critical palaentological area in Europe), and Fromista, Carrion de Los Condes and Sahagún which have strong Gothic and Mudéjar influence. Sahagún also marks the 1/2 way point on the Camino Frances.
One dramatic landscape difference in the Castilla y León region is the meseta. This is the large and expansive flat plains in central Spain. It begins after Burgos and ends in Astorga. As you are walking through this area, which takes about 9 days, you feel very small in comparison to what’s around you. For us, the weather was perfect to walk this vast area and enjoy the big, open sky. Some people do not like this part and choose to fast forward by train or taxi. I could not imagine not experiencing the meseta. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or felt while hiking.
Galicia is the last region that covers the Camino Frances. We have been hearing from several people that this is one of their favorite regions on this walk and we are beginning to understand why. It is magical! The first town that depicts the mysticism of Galicia is O’Cebreiro. It is something out of the pages of a fairy tale. Although small, it is big on character.
We are only at the beginning of Galicia, currently enjoying a second day in Sarria. This is our last rest day before completing the Camino in 5 days. To this point Galicia, we have come across many small farms. The smell of farm towns is one I shall never forget, and although it’s not my favorite, I am in awe at the tenacity and hard work of those who tend to these lands. Because of them, we are able to enjoy delicious fresh cheese and century old recipes that still satisfy a hungry Peregrino.
Sarria, the last 100km of the Camino Frances begins here. Many people who want to do the Camino Francés but do not want to or cannot walk the entire trail start from here.
We do not know what’s ahead of us in terms of grade of difficulty, time it will take us to walk each day or people we will meet. All we know is that by now, we have our routines in place and we are ready to arrive in Santiago. Or are we? Are we ready to end this incredible journey? We shall find out.
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